By Nafisah Kara
Almost every follower of the zero waste movement seems to have started their journey reading Bea Johnson’s Zero Waste Home. After reading this from book cover to cover (and making countless handy notes), I have come to the conclusion that the principles of zero waste coincide completely with our religion – Islam.
To achieve a zero waste life Johnson swears by a five-rule mantra to apply when considering one’s consumption or disposal of waste. Refuse, Reduce, Re-use, Recycle, Rot.
As Muslims, with everything new we learn, we must always consider what Allah and our Prophet Muhammad have to say on the matter through the Quran and Hadith.
On reading Johnson’s guide many quotes and sayings came to mind which resonate with the Islamic teachings – parts of the religion I had never truly implemented. This book was very useful in how to implement these teachings in today’s world.
Refusing what you don’t need seems self -explanatory, but our inability to refuse freebies that we don’t need is remarkable. How many leaflets, pens, key rings, and business cards do we collect and leave lying around the house or simply throw into the trash? Refusing these items will lessen demand for marketing companies to produce so much and encourage them to adopt better creative and sustainable ways to promote their businesses. These ‘freebies’ are using up unnecessary resources which are often non-recyclable.
There are plenty of Ayahs from the Quran which speak against being excessive in material possessions and diet.
الَّذِي جَمَعَ مَالًا وَعَدَّدَهُ
“(Woe unto him) who amasses wealth and counts it a safeguard” [Surah Al-Humazah – 104;2]
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ
“O Children of Adam, take your adornment at every place of prayer, eat and drink, but be not excessive – Indeed Allah likes not those who commit excess” [Surah Al-A`raf – 7;31]
Regarding food consumption:
“The first calamity for this nation after the Prophet’s death is fullness of their stomachs; when their stomachs became full, they became obese and their hearts weakened and their desires became wild” [Bukhari]
The Quran is clear in warning us of the tests that come with attaining material possessions or being excessive in our consumption. The more you possess, the more distracted you are from focusing on Allah . Taking care of all of our ‘stuff’ is time consuming – it requires constant maintenance, organizing and causes us stress which we don’t need. The more we consume, the greedier we become.
The Prophet Muhammad would mend his cloths and repair his own shoes in times of poverty, but also in times of ease. The idea of not being wasteful is not a new phenomenon but something which was practised by many prophets of the past.
Prophet Muhammad also taught:
“He who sleeps while their neighbor is hungry is not one of us.” [Muslim]
This is the motivation behind many charities led by Muslim organizations running soup kitchens and food banks around the country. Food banks are run on donated food items, as well as warm clothing to keep warm in winter. These items are critical for those who are sleeping rough or families living in poverty around the UK (or anywhere else in the world). Finding a second life for many of our possessions does not require much effort and reduces how much we waste. There are thousands living in poverty in our, countries in desperate need of items we would usually chuck away.
Islam is a religion that provides guidance on every aspect of our daily lives. Disposing waste appropriately is also mentioned.
“Abu Barza once asked Muhammad : ‘Teach me something so that I may derive benefit from it.’ He said, ‘Remove the troublesome thing from the paths of the Muslims’.” [Muslim]
Rotting our waste is a great way to reduce what we throw into landfill. Food waste such as vegetable peelings, egg shells and old left overs can be thrown into the food waste to produce nutritious compost for your garden. Paper, ash and wood items can also be thrown into compost bins in your back garden to feed the mini ecosystem, feeding thousands of tiny insects.
Our Plastic Problem
So now that we know that Islam supports a zero waste lifestyle, how else can we motivate ourselves to adopt this lifestyle? After all it requires more work, extra planning and can be time consuming. To become passionate about living zero waste, we must become aware of our current relationship with plastic.
Putting it simply, plastics are great for durability. It is this durability however which means that once a plastic product is made, it will remain on this earth FOREVER . Every single piece of plastic ever thrown away is harming our habitats, environments and oceans.
Here are some worrying statistics which should motivate every Muslim to make changes:
- Over 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been thrown away in the last 68 years
- 80% of this plastic has leaked into the ocean killing marine life and seaming into our food chain – That is the weight of 8 billion elephants or 55 million jumbo jets.
- In the UK alone, 13 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away a year – only 3 billion are recycled.
- Every human being on the planet will use 136 kilos of single-use plastic a year
If these figures aren’t frightening enough, it is expected that by 2050 plastic production will treble.
So what can we do?
To start, we can stop using disposable plastic products such as plates, cups and cutlery. We can find wood, metal or glass alternatives to items we use in the home. In Johnson’s guide, she provides countless of examples on how she replaced items in her kitchen, bathroom and other aspects of her life with sustainable products.
We must remember that Allah appointed us as stewards upon the Earth.
وَهُوَ الَّذِي جَعَلَكُمْ خَلَائِفَ الْأَرْضِ وَرَفَعَ بَعْضَكُمْ فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ دَرَجَاتٍ لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ ۗ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ سَرِيعُ الْعِقَابِ وَإِنَّهُ لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ
“And it is He (God) who has made you successors (khala’ifa) upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees [of rank] that He may try you through what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in penalty; but indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Surah Al-An’am – 6;165]
Every Muslim is a steward upon the Earth, and Islam is a religion of Justice. We must strive to live in harmony with the environment by supporting organic farmers, fair-trade brands and make eco-friendly choices with our consumer power. It is a great shame that many other communities lead in these movements although it is in our own tradition to respect Allah’s creation which includes animals and the Earth.
Also remember, change does not come overnight. Embracing these changes will take us time, but will InshaAllah bring us closer to Allah .
Nafisah is an aspiring historian and founder of the Islamic History Project. She also enjoys writing on green living inspired by Islamic teachings.